A Travellerspoint blog


Under The Dock

Exploring the Dark, Mysterious World of Wooden Docks

overcast 54 °F

On Wooden Docks

The tidal change can be severe in the Pacific Northwest. It is not uncommon for the tides vary by fifteen feet or more. Coastal communities have to build tall, beefy docks to counter the tides, which mariners call a hard dock. A hard dock has its structure embedded into the sea floor. The docks have to endure decades of abuse brought on by exposure to salt water, surging tides, docking vessels and wind. Heavy beams soaked in strong water resistant chemicals make up its support structure. The docks are tall, the better to cope with the differences in tide and swell. On the face of dock, they have skinny escape ladders set at intervals. These ladders serve two purposes. They allow a member of a docking vessel to climb on the dock to secure lines. They allow for someone who has fallen in the water a place to escape.

We moored our ship to an old wooden hard dock in the small island community of Alert Bay, British Columbia. On a whim, I put on a life jacket and walked along our rub rail on the dockside of the ship. It was cold, dark, and mysterious. There were large white cauliflower anemones attached just below the low tide water line. Barnacles stuck to everything. Bull Kelp draped from the crossbeams and ladders. The place had a life all of its own.
I quickly retraced my steps and grabbed my camera. The angles of the beams, the swirling water and life forms intrigued me. It was difficult to shoot one handed while hanging on to the lifeline with the other, but well worth the effort.
I was inspired. I began to explore some of the other docks of the ports we frequent. I remembered my visits to Astoria, Oregon whose wooden wharves and docks run the length of town. What other treasures could I find down there?
Wooden docks have character. I like the angled beams. Look at the hidden artistry that goes into each beam. The master builders have done well. The longevity of these docks is a test to their ability.

I’m beginning to see a reoccurring theme to my nautical pieces. I love the lore of the sea as much as the sea itself.
Have you ever gone for a stroll on a wooden dock? The thumping sound of feet on the old wood rings true. It sounds like a heartbeat, but it is just one small sound of the orchestra. Go for a walk in an old marina early on a Sunday morning. Listen to the distant calls of gulls, ravens, and eagles. Hear the sound of lapping water against the hulls of the moored vessels. Smell that salty air. Feel that cool air on your face. Mooring lines creak as they take strain against the ship. Look at the old vessels - see if you can find a wooden hulled ship. There is probably a fisherman quietly gearing up for the day. Say hello to the harbor cat as you pass by. Walk to the end of the wharf and look out at the distant sea. Sip your hot coffee.
Coastal towns thrived because of good harborages and docks. If you look at the layout of most ports, you will often find, ““Market Street.” or “Water Street.” These streets had bustling markets and often became the business district. That is because of the dock, and the importance of trade via water.

This is just the beginning to my explorations of these wonderful structures. I’m surprised I haven’t given them much thought before this, but I inspiration strikes as it will.

Author’s Note

As I’ve been working on this piece this week, Alaska has ripped open a bag of beautiful views and has thrown them all over the place. I’m sitting on some of the most gorgeous pictures I have to show you the underside of some old, dirty docks. Now that’s good blogging practice! Look for these photos and accompanying words within the week.


Posted by Rhombus 21:26 Archived in Canada Tagged towns oceans ships docks photography tides Comments (0)

British Columbia by Water

An Ethereal Study of Reflection, Ocean Life and Fun

sunny 67 °F

These are my final observations of Alaska for the year.

One: The Misty Fjords weren’t as misty as I expected them to be. To be sure, the morning was very misty, and very beautiful because of the vaporous water. Later in the day, they burned off, revealing the impressive rock faces that make up the landscape.
Sometimes, incredible weather can happen in the most unlikely of places.

Two: Alaska was very good to me this year. Thinking back on all of the amazing things I have seen this past summer has been further encouragement, that I am indeed on the right path. Aye, life is good.

Three: I’m going to miss Alaska.
Four: It’s been a fantastic trip. How lucky can one guy get?

These are my observations of British Columbia.

One: British Columbia has amazing morning lighting, leading me to conclude it is an ethereal realm where the intense greens were mirrors on the surface of its protected narrow and winding waterways. Eventually, the mirrored images begin to form unique natural designs, and patterns. I was lost in brightness of the trees, the beautiful patterns repeating themselves, and the overall beauty of the mornings.

Two: Kayaking is splendid activity to enhance the visuals of item one. I spent a morning floating on a placid surface, paddling hard when I wanted, but mostly taking it easy and exploring the intertidal zones along the shores of these lushly forested islands. I saw gigantic sea stars, and other invertebrates I hadn’t seen before. B.C. is a healthy place, the environments and ecosystems are strong, and flourishing.

Three: The wildlife of British Columbia can be quite good. I saw pods of Orca, including a mother and calf pair that played in the tidal current lines just aft of our ship, not more than thirty feet away. We were out of gear of course and posing no threat to any wildlife. To find yourself surrounded by water mammals is a good situation to be in.

To top it off, we found a pod of Pacific White Sided dolphins! There were several hundred in the group, and most of them were jumping in and out of the water with dolphin regularity. It’s hard to follow dolphins as they streak through the water. They are unpredictable. The best course of action is just to trust your instincts and keep shooting. For every fifteen bad pictures I take, there is usually one gem.
The dolphins made my day. Just when you think there won’t be anything else to make a trip better, dolphins show up and spread that smile on my face just a little wider.

Four: British Columbia has a lot to offer. Go check it out sometime. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I'm now back in the Lower Forty-Eight, about to spend six weeks travelling up and down the Columbia, Snake, Palouse, and Willamette Rivers.

Posted by Rhombus 10:21 Archived in Canada Tagged trees reflections wildlife whales alaska canada dolphins photography orcas Comments (2)

An Evening at Niagara Falls

The Canadian Side, Tourist Traps, The Falls, and Burlington, Vermont

sunny 79 °F

Niagara Falls
I could tell we were entering the land of tourists long before we ever crossed the border into Canada. Giant signs touting “FALLS INFORMATION” were festooned all over the American side, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. After all, a natural feature as fantastic as a giant waterfall must be exploited, and cash carrying tourists are the quarry.

I knew I was heading into Disneyland, but I still wanted to see the falls. I’ve always liked falling water, and the immensity of these falls attracted me.

We crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada with ease on a balmy summer evening in mid August. The fine mist from the spray of the falls was on my left, and the gorge was on my right. I had to concentrate on driving however, and didn’t get to gawk at the falls. My girlfriend has a small white subcompact, that I dubbed “Little Tooth” which is great on gas, but doesn’t offer much elevation to see much over the sides of bridges.

After passing customs, we followed the signs to the edge of the gorge and past the two sets of falls towards the parking lots, which are some distance away from the falls. The lots were charging twenty dollars a pop to park, but since my companion knew the area well, we continued past the lots and pulled into a small park with free parking. She’s got beauty and brains, hot damn, I’m lucky. We parked and walked back toward the main overlook of the falls past small streams, the old power station (which is an impressive architectural site as well). While walking along, I looked out over the rushing water, and wondered what it was like to see these falls for the first time if you didn’t know that they were there. Imagine taking a raft down the river, and suddenly you start to hear a dull roar that only kept getting louder as the water became much swifter.
Then I started wondering what it was like to go over in a barrel. Daredevils have been trying this stunt for as long as there have been people coming to view the falls. These days, these kinds of stunts are highly illegal and frowned upon. The Niagara Falls operators have been trying to discourage this kind of stunts for decades. I suppose they feel it makes their falls kind of a sideshow act or something.
Just recently, one of the “Flying Wallendas” (of tight rope walking fame) was trying to set up a high wire act to walk across the gorge in front of the falls. The City of Niagara Falls, New York sponsored the idea as a way to bring in more people to their struggling city. However, the casino/hotel rich Canadians of Niagara Falls, Ontario aren’t facing financial difficulties at the moment, and won’t consent to the attempt.

Some Facts:
Niagara Falls consist of two sets of falls, Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. They are formed by the awesome power of water that drains from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Horseshoe falls are around 2600 feet and drop around 170 feet into the gorge. The American falls are just over 1000 feet wide and fall somewhere between 70 and 100 feet. That’s a lot of water.

Both sides of the gorge offer views of the falls, but the Canadian side offers a head on look at them, compared to the side view the Americans see. The overlook sidewalk was full of tourists, all of them were milling about, taking pictures of their companions (big smiles), then handing off the camera to another so they can get in on the act (more big smiles). A woman saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her and “Bob” with their camera. I was happy to do so, and I wished them a good evening.
Finally, I neared the edge of Horseshoe falls. I had to wait until an opening appeared at the rail. The aforementioned cliques of tourists swarmed to the rail and away from it like flocks of migrating black birds, each taking turns with their backs to the falls, then moving on for another perspective.
I was impressed. The falls are powerful, robust, and awe inspiring. They were cool to see, and I enjoyed my time at the rail. I had my camera out, and tried to focus more on the natural side of things (of course). It was hard, but not impossible to get good portraits of the falls without including smiling tourists.

I won’t lie (much). I took the obligatory couples shot of my lady and myself in front of the falls. I think it’s a requirement to seeing the falls. I happily paid my dues. What I don’t understand is the allure of getting married or engaged at the falls. What’s romantic about a tourist trap? I mean the falls are beautiful, and would make a nice backdrop for such things, but the fact is, you aren’t going to get the falls all to yourself, ever. But I guess I’m a loony and don’t know much about true love. Ah well, maybe in time I’ll understand.
We ended our evening on a high note with a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately we were back in Little Tooth and couldn’t get out to take advantage of the scene (aka take a photo), so we just enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed my visit to Niagara Falls.

On Burlington.
If you were in the business of designing a city, you might want to consider Burlington, Vermont as your footprint. Burlington has many good things going for it, and people from around the country are starting to take notice.

Burlington is located up in the northwest part of the state, on the east side of Samuel De Champlain’s Lake. Champlain was credited with being the first hombre to come stomping by, probably in search of beaver pelts.

Vermont takes great pride in promoting local food first, and Burlington leads the way. In every restaurant we visited the menu was full of ingredients from farms surrounding the Burlington area. It was also really cool to see were all the small farms that were in business on the way into town. We drove in on highway seven past the lush farms in the peak of their growing season. There were rich cornfields with corn straight and tall. Beans, berries apples and peaches, fresh eggs and grass fed beef among other farm fresh products were for sale, and it was hard not to get excited. This is how food ought to be. Buy it local, support your neighbors, and get it fresh.

Burlington is an old city (established in 1785). Burlington is mixing pot of college kids, working professionals, crunchy green culture, and progressive thinkers. It was a refreshing place to look around and say, “Uh Huhn. Looks like these folks are doing it right.”

The city has a reliable and very good public transit system. On busy weekend evenings, it’s better to leave your car at home if you are heading downtown. Take the bus, or expect to walk a ways, the city is trying to encourage public transit use and therefore doesn’t make downtown parking very accessible. The five o’clock rush hour is a good time to avoid the downtown area, and that’s probably the most negative thing I can say about the city.

It’s a bike friendly town. There are ample bike lanes and routes along the streets. There are many bikers. , and biking is a good option for anyone interested in seeing the city.

Beyond that, it’s an active town, there were many people out running, walking, biking, rollerblading, long board skateboarding, among others. During the weekend, Burlington was hosting the national championships of triathlon, and the town was full of fit athletes preparing for the race.

While I only had a brief visit in Burlington, I enjoyed it immensely. Here are my recommendations for places to eat, and places to see while in the city. For breakfast, try Sneakers, The Skinny Pancake (serving crepes) and their sister shop The Chubby Muffin.

My favorite restaurant was by far The Farm House. I spent all day hiking up to the top of Mount Mansfield and I had a monstrous appetite. The fresh food was served hot was delicious, and I ate my meal like a boa constrictor. I recommend the house macaroni and cheese, and a side of homemade summer sausage. Beyond that, their beer selection was amazing with a featured local brew, and dozens of choices of regional micro brews. I am a chocolate nut so I visited the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. Their chocolate is divine. Ben and Jerry’s are still serving ice cream from their first ice cream shop downtown. Finally, if you are into the outdoors, you’d do well to visit the Outdoor Gear Exchange. This is a dangerous shop, full of new and used outdoor gear of all varieties. You can buy and sell equipment there, so make sure to check out the consignment area to find good deals on good gear.

Most of these places are downtown along Church Street. Church street is closed to motorized traffic and allows foot traffic only. It’s a cool little street full of people milling about shopping, eating or simply people watching.
My only regret was not bringing my camera out more. I’ve no pictures to back up my claims, but please take my word for it. Burlington is a class act.

Posted by Rhombus 09:45 Archived in Canada Tagged waterfalls_vermont_photography_ Comments (0)

Beautiful British Columbia-Part 2

Barkerville, Prince George Hospitality and The Trail of Tears

rain 49 °F

Turning north on highway 97, the highway quickly leaves the arid region and enters the Interior Plateau region. This region was also a bit of a surprise to me, as it reminded me of the upper Midwest forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. There were large forests of trees, long prairies along the road where farms and ranches have made their home. The plateau was still several weeks behind the coastal areas in spring foliage. It was colder here. Spring seemed like it had just begun.
Barkerville is about an hour drive east of Quesnel. This small village has been refurbished into an authentic gold mining town. At one time, Barkerville was the second largest city on the west coast, boasting over 30,000 residents; second only to San Francisco. Who knew? Now days, the town is a cool example of a thriving town during the gold rush. During the summer (May 10-Oct), the town hires actors to come in to play the townsfolk in authentic period clothing and mannerisms. There are even vintage items for sale at the local stores. Sadly for us, our visit was too early in the year, and we only saw a ghost town. That was interesting in it’s own right, however, the complete stillness of winter (it had snowed the night before our visit). I’d like to go back and check it out while the actors are playing. I believe it would be well worth the visit.
The Couch Surfing network came through for me again, this time in Prince George. After running a few errands, we met up with our host at her comfortable home. She turned out to be a gracious, interesting, inspiring host. She was very excited about her traveling future, and life in general. We talked a lot about our travels, which usually re-inspires me to think about my own travel plans.

I found myself on my way to an African themed dance at the African Café. For company, I was with two vivacious fifty-somethings who loved to dance and my ex-girlfriend. What are the odds? Prince George is about as far away from Africa as you can get. We met some of our host’s friends, got in a few words of conversation before the rhythmic music began. I had a great time. I dance like a fish out of water, gasping and flopping around, trying to move to the beat. Picture Steve Martin’s character on the front porch of his cabin in the movie “The Jerk” and you’ll have me. I’m not all that comfortable on a dance floor, but I decided to stop being so self conscious and have fun. And I did.

Part of what I really like about traveling is being put into situations that completely get you out of your element. On the road, you never know what situation you may find yourself in, and in dealing with your circumstances you can learn a lot about yourself, often times improving yourself for the better.

The drive from PG to “The Rupe” is a long drive, but it’s one of my favorite in BC. Driving west, the landscape continues through the forested lands of the interior plateau until you reach the town of Smithers. From here on, the mountains return, offering amazing scenery the rest of the way to PR.
Do you think the BC Tourism Board approve this Billboard?
I was driving late into the evening, trying to get to Terrace before the sun went down. We were cagey, hungry, sick of being in the van, tired of movement. I had driven almost 300 miles that day. In spite of my weariness, I was loving the scenery. Spring had returned, and the young green foliage was lit up by the setting sun, glowing. The snow covered mountains were visible in all their majestic splendor, towering over all. The road ran along side the rushing Skeena River, shining and glittering. The river was full of long gravel islands, forever changing with the flowing water. Rivers are great metaphors for life. It was a gorgeous drive. We made it to Terrace in time to order a pizza, get a campsite at the municipal campground and relax for a few minutes before it grew dark. Most of the towns of BC have very nice municipal campgrounds to stop at along the way. Many of the provincial parks are still closed until May, so these are a nice option to have. Most are inexpensive, less than 20 dollars, so they are easy on the budget.
On the last drive day, we had only 90 miles to go to get to PR. It was a nice day for a drive, overcast, with a little mist. I was relaxed, the long journey was basically over. Along the way, I spied a Brown bear walking down to the Skeena river. I stopped and turned back around for a closer look and maybe a picture, but when we got close, it hid in the nearby trees. Ah well, at least I finally got to see a grizzly. Hopefully this summer, I’ll see more. We got to PR in the afternoon. We went for a hike to the Butze Rapids. The rapids are a reversing tidal rapid that occurs twice a day during the changing of tides. A large body of water rushes through a narrow body of water to fill or empty the Wainright Basin. Basically, the water is trying to level itself out. While we didn’t see the water rushing through, we did enjoy the three mile hike through the flourishing coastal forest and open grassy areas.
We had made it. All told, we drove 4,330 Miles since leaving Minnesota. We got a campsite at PR’s municipal campground for the night. It was close to the ferry terminal, so we could have an easy morning on the day of our departure. We packed our bags, prepared some food, and relaxed. The driving was done, all that was left were 2 days on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, taking us from Prince Rupert to Sitka.

Posted by Rhombus 21:54 Archived in Canada Tagged photography Comments (0)

Beautiful British Columbia -Part One

Sea to Sky Scenic Byway, Promises Kept, Waterfalls and Vanicide

sunny 50 °F

The last leg of the drive began when we crossed the border into the province of British Columbia (BC) in Canada. My destination was Prince Rupert (PR), the small port city way out on the west end of highway 16, some 800 plus miles from where we crossed the border. I had five days to get to PR, which afforded me the luxury of breaking up the long drive days. Last year, I drove that distance in two long marathon driving sessions; going from the border to Prince George (PG) (490 or so miles) and Prince George to Prince Rupert (449 miles). I didn’t want to have to do that again, and besides, there is a lot of BC that I wanted stop and see. Two of my first goals were to hike up the Second Peak trail in the Chief Stawamus Provincial Park, and I wanted to drive the Sea to Sky Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 99. Beyond that, I didn’t have many plans, other than to make my ferry in PR.

The Sea to Sky Scenic Byway begins just outside of Vancouver, and runs north along the coast passing through the scenic towns of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and Lillooet, before intersecting with Hwy 97 which is the main north/south thoroughfare in central BC. The road begins by following the rugged and picturesque coastline up to Squamish (The Sea), then it begins to climb steadily higher through Whistler and Pemberton. After Pemberton, the highway climbs high up into the craggy, soaring coastal ranges of BC where the road meets “The Sky.”

Back in February, I had made my first visit to Chief Stawamus Provincial Park. On that visit, I had climbed the lofty First Peak trail, the first of the three “chief trails” (see Vancouver Part 3). I really enjoyed climbing up to First Peak. Upon summiting, I was enthralled with the views, one of them being the slightly higher Second Peak. I vowed that I would return to climb it in April, on my drive up through BC.
So now it is April, and here I am just south of Squamish once again. I’m about to fulfill a promise to myself. It was a beautiful spring day; the sky was blue, the leaves on the trees were budding and bright green. The white granite cliffs and faces of the surrounding mountains dominated the views. It was breezy and cool with gusts from off the ocean. I was gazing up at the majestic and powerful lower Shannon falls. The mountainous countryside of coastal BC drops down to the ocean abruptly. Indeed, there are sheer cliffs that drop down from the sides of mountains in dramatic relief. I haven’t looked at a topographic map of this area, but I imagine the contours of the map really challenged the cartographers who had to draw them. Shannon Falls is the result of this radical topography. Melting water from high up in the mountains follows the easiest course down through the mountains low areas, then it falls 1,105 feet over the face of the sheer granite cliff before it regroups, and meanders its way to the ocean. The falls were spectacular, and a lot of people were out to see them. I was struck at how well dressed most people were while viewing the falls. I saw people wearing very nice clothes, smelling of perfume and after shave as they hiked along the trail to the overlook. Is this normal in other countries? When I’m out on a hike (or anywhere for that matter), I’m wearing my zip off adventure pants, comfortable adventure shirt and solid hiking boots. I don’t even own clothes as nice as these people were wearing. They had class, I’ll give them that.

The hike up to Second Peak was a grinder. Hiking up the trail was hard, probably the toughest hike I’ve been on this year so far. It IS a very demanding trail, but I was struggling with personal physical issues. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before, so I was already tired. On top of that, I was still fighting the last elements of a sore throat, so I wasn’t breathing as smoothly as I normally am. Instead of steadily climbing up the trail, feeling good, I was steadily climbing up feeling bad. I had to stop to catch my breath more several times, before continuing the grueling climb.

It was a gorgeous trail. The trail begins by climbing up a steep and rocky boulder strewn path. It runs along a nearby creek which falls down the same incline in a long set of tumbling falls. The roaring white noise of rushing water blocks out all other noises except for your breathing and footsteps. It’s easy to get into a rhythm during this section, letting your mind wander as it will. The trail splits, allowing you the choice between hiking to first peak or second peak and I chose the latter. The hiking became climbing, as the trail began ascending steep, slippery rock chutes. There were cold, steel chains to grab onto to aid the climb, but I chose to make it more challenging, by using only natural foot and hand holds for aid. I love this type of hiking, a scramble, using my whole body to get up to the top of the rock. It reminded me of Joshua Tree National Park (see Joshua Tree On My Mind), though the environments are completely different.
After the technical chutes, the trail opened up onto a grippy, sloping granite slab that I ran up. I had left the trail, as it wasn’t necessary anymore. All that was left to do was keep going up to the high point. I like following my own path. Upon summiting, I looked down at the town of Squamish and back south towards First Peak. There were several groups of hikers that were doing the same thing I was doing, gawking at the amazing scenery, putting on warmer clothes, taking pictures, eating snacks, and taking long pulls from their water bottles. I liked Second Peak better than First. I loved framing First Peak against the distant coastline. The furthest mountains and islands were pale blue, and each successive jagged band of terra firma was darker then the last. The protected ocean bays were flat and blotched from the wind gusts that blew over it. The sky was light blue looking toward the sun, and chains of cumulous clouds were rolling by changing their shapes in slow motion as they passed. It was a magnificent reward for my labor. Next time I visit the Squamish area, I’ll climb Third Peak. Just to round out my education.

After couch surfing in Whistler, I continued my journey along the Scenic Byway. I stopped briefly in Whistler Village to check it out the popular skiing destination base camp. I wished it was mid-February, because it would have been an easy decision to spend the day carving the powder with my skis. The Whistler/Blackcomb Ski areas are some of the most popular mountains in North America, a kind of Mecca for ski bums like myself. I talked to the owner of a local ski shop, he was very interesting, knowledgeable about the area, and a good example of “Canadian nice.” Canada has an admirable reputation of being nice, and I can tell you it’s true.
I ate breakfast at Nairn Falls Provincial Park, near Pemberton. Then I hiked the short distance to the viewing area of the falls. Nairn falls is a good example of the enormous power of water. The Green River narrows and has gouged its way through the ledge rock, reminiscent of a hot knife through butter. The upper falls are narrow, cutting deep into the rock, almost hiding themselves. The overall falls (both sets) drop about 180 feet. Then the churning, gritty water continues down stream through a narrow rock channel, zigzagging along. It disappears under rock bridge where two carved potholes have met under the water. Finally, it follows through the thirty foot wide rock chute before it falls over the second set of falls in a thunderous barrage of white water. Impressive.
My drive over the coastal mountains from Pemberton to Lillooet was a mental tug of war between anguish over what these steep and winding roads were doing to my old van, and being completely engrossed with the beautiful mountain views that surrounded me. These are some SERIOUS mountain roads, probably among the highest and steepest I’ve ever crossed. It began with a long climb up the pass, where my van could comfortably climb at 30 mph. It’s high whine kept reminding me that if I wanted this van to last, I should treat it better. After topping out on top near Duffy Lake, I descended into a long series of steep hills, with wooden one lane bridges over the beautiful Cayoosh Creek. There were several stretches of road where the angle of descent was over 11%. I estimated at least 6 miles of these brake melting pitches. Down, down, down we went, my ears refusing to pop right away, so my head was a sound proof room, like I was wearing thick earmuffs to dull all sound.
Finally, we reached Lillooet and a break for lunch, and a chance to let the van cool down. It smelled like a strong mixture of hot metal, burning rubber and molten oil. Sorry ol’ buddy. It was over, and the country side had turned dry, desert like. When I think of BC, I don’t think desert, but it is here. The high desert region is just east of the coastal mountains which steal a lot of the moisture that passes over.

To Be Continued...

Posted by Rhombus 21:52 Archived in Canada Tagged photography Comments (0)

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